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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

D-mail for the week of February 4, 2010
Scripture: Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
I Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.

Mid Winter “Blahs” Got You Down?

I decided that after the last two D-mails, it was time for something more upbeat. Even as our prayers continue for Haiti, it is hard some days to fight off the mid-winter “blahs”, especially for those of us up north who won’t experience spring for a good two months yet (no matter what the groundhog says on Tuesday!). Alas, even those of you who live further south are getting piles of snow and treacherous ice storms. I compiled a short list of other possible causes for the “blahs”. Perhaps you can relate to some of them.
1) It’s February, cabin fever season.
2. It’s really cold. (our thermometer read - 5 early this morning)
3) The snow is lousy for any snow sports.
4) It’s dark . (it’s dark when you get up for work and dark by the time you come home)
5) The economy is not so good yet.
6) The Packers lost again this season.

7) The flu

Fill in the “bummer” of your choice.                                                                                                                                  

Today my husband brought home the latest company newsletter and, surprise! It too was on the subject of mid-winter “blahs”. The writer, CEO Dean Gruner, said that he had decided to do a little basic research on the “blahs” on Google because the recurring theme around the office the last few weeks has been, “I have the “blahs”. Here is what he found:
“Blahs” had 286,000 hits.
“Winter blahs” had 168,000 hits.
“Blah Ville” had 155,000 hits.
He said he checked out several other sites and concluded,
“It seems like everyone is writing about the blahs - and willing to sell you a book, magazine, or nutritional supplement to help (for their profit, of course).” He went on to say,

At this point I became a little frustrated, until I remembered a conversation I had with the Chair of Psychiatry at Mayo Clinic some years ago. He was a kind and talented man who had practiced psychiatry for over 30 years. I asked him if he had a “philosophy” regarding his years of trying to help people. He did! Simply put, after years of seeing patients, he had come to understand and share with all his patients the following:
Life is Difficult…People are Complicated…so be Kind to Yourself!”
– taken from the ThedaCare newsletter, January 2010 by CEO Dean Gruner –

I would add to that philosophy, Be kind to others and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Cast all your cares at the feet of Jesus and remember that whatever it is, the outcome is not up to you - and it never was.

Of course, the “blahs” could be more than just being weary of winter. If you think you may be suffering from depression, seek professional help -your pastor, your doctor, or a professional counselor. But here are a few other successful approaches for battling the “blahs”:

1) Get/start regular exercise. Yes, I know it’s cold and icy outside, but you could join a class at a fitness club or the Y, you could join the mall walkers (don’t take your wallet!), if you have cable, you could move along with a program on the Fitness channel, or just turn on some lively music and clean the house at a brisk pace.
2) Treat yourself to time with friends. It’s easy to isolate yourself in winter. Meet for coffee or a walk. Have a pot-luck dinner party.
3) Schedule some time for something you like to do and have missed doing. I’m tackling sock knitting.
4) Watch some comedy shows or movies; laughter is, after all, the best medicine. (Proverbs 17:22) My personal favorite for belly-busting laughter is Victor Borge’s, Danny Kaye’s or Carol Burnett’s comedy routines (all available on DVD).
5) Help someone else by volunteering.
6) Call or visit a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while. It’s fun to surprise them!
7) Take “energy breaks”. Get up from your work and stretch, get a big glass of water, put your coat on and go outside during your coffee break and breathe deeply (soak up some sun if there is any!)

8) Venting and getting things off your chest is therapeutic, but doing so for more than a few minutes can be counterproductive and unhealthy. Consider scheduling three minutes or less of venting each day and that’s it. If you don’t want to lose friends or spouse by venting to them, find a private place, like your car or a private bathroom or even the stairwell, and let loose to God and the air. Or journal (one person I know recommends writing like crazy in red ink, ignoring punctuation, “proper” grammar, and good handwriting. Then slam the book shut and leave your “grumps” inside)
9) Find ways to avoid “negative” people in your life. Invite a positive person to lunch!
10) Be kind to yourself. Let some things go. The weather will warm up, we will get more sun, the robins will return, we will be able to open the windows again! And just think, it won’t be any time at all until we get to bellyache about mosquitoes and pollen again!

You may be saying, “Cathy, you promised this D-mail would be light and you’ve been writing about the “blahs”! You’re right. But I just gave you ten things to do about it! However, to follow the comedians’ creed of “always leave them laughing”, I am concluding with a funny story a friend sent me. Enjoy!

Some children were asked by their Sunday School teacher to write a book report on the entire Bible. Here is one child’s Bible in a nutshell.

Judas Asparagus
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one’, but I think He must be a lot older than that.
Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did.
Then God made the world.
He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..I am not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.
Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud coat.
Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.
He fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.
Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the wall fell over on the town..
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.
After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.
There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.
Jesus also had twelve opossums.
The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He helped many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.
But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

The End  
Prayer: Lord, thank you that you don’t go away for the winter. Thank you that you are always there to hear our “grumps” and you love us even when we whine. I pray that you give each person a way to lessen their blahs. I pray that you minister to and guide those who are genuinely depressed and need treatment. Lord, move over the country of Haiti in a mighty way to restore and replenish and give the people hope. Amen

So far I haven’t written anything about my needlework adventures.  I sewed so many things for my grandchildren for Christmas.  The best received was the mother-daughter aprons I made for my daughter-in-law, Kim and 2- year- old Katie.  Kim and Michael love to cook and are very good at it, but they have what Kim’s mother calls a “two butt kitchen”. I don’t cook a lot anymore, and I’m the one with the big kitchen!   Naturally Katie wants to be in the kitchen with Mommy and Daddy as they cook and she is always welcome despite how crowded it becomes.  They put her up on what is now known as “Katie’s cooking chair”.  Now that they have matching aprons, she loves it even more.  She even asks if they can put on their aprons and wash dishes (they don’t have a dishwasher either)!  I would have made Michael an apron too except that the girls’ aprons are pink with pictures of mothers and daughters on them!

 

For Christmas, I sewed PJs and a dress for Katie and fleece sleep sacks for Andy.  I made my mother a quilted tablecloth using teapot fabric.  I also finished two Christmas wall hangings that I’d started last year, but I never quite got around to hanging them up. Oh well, next year!  Now that it is the new year, I want to get back to my sewing.  I have a dress cut out for Laura, fleece slippers for Kim, several outfits for myself and patterns for a bunch of quilts. Now I just need to discipline myself to say “no” to the other things calling my name, and closet myself upstairs in my sewing studio.  And then there’s the knitting projects I have underway.  Oh dear. What to do first?  I love it all.

When I was five years old, I knew that I would become a needle artist.  My Grandma Elsie was a master seamstress and tailor.  She began sewing for a living when she was 12!  Whenever I was with her, she taught me something new about sewing.  She mailed me scraps of fabric to sew clothes by hand for my dolls. Seventh grade home ec was boring for me because my grandma had already taught me more advanced skills than the simple apron the teacher assigned. When I was 13, I inherited a neighbor’s treadle sewing machine and I haven’t quit sewing since.  By the time I was in high school, I was making my own clothes.  For my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me a Kenmore sewing machine.  It wasn’t much of a machine and had a cumbersome, engineering nightmare of a buttonhole attachment.  For years I held together the garments I made with every closure known to man except the button, just so I didn’t have to make buttonholes!  Nevertheless, the electric machine sure beat the treadle.  I took my trusty machine to college with me.  I even made my velvet wedding gown on that machine. I sewed my first maternity clothes with it and then it finally died.  Several years into our marriage, my dear husband took me sewing machine shopping.  We were assured by the salesman that we were purchasing the top of the Singer line, the machine that I would have for the rest of my life.  It was called the Futura.  It was, in fact, the Edsel of the Singer line.  Anything that could go wrong with that machine, did go wrong.  But that is a story for later. 

While in high school, besides sewing, the craft that I desperately wanted to master was knitting.  I didn’t know anyone who knitted, but I thought what could be done with two sticks and some yarn was so cool!  So I bought the needles and a skein of yarn and set about teaching myself to knit, something I do not advise anyone to attempt!  Why didn’t they teach us to knit in home ec class?

  I knit my first project when I was a senior in high school.  It was to be a scarf for my boyfriend, who was in college at Northwestern U.  It became the NEVER-ENDING scarf.  I ended up folding it in half and making what was more like a woolen cervical collar for whiplash victims than a muffler.  Muffler was a good name for it though because when he put it on and buttoned it, it covered half his face, muffling his voice.  But he actually wore it, bless his heart (and ended up as my husband seven years later).  What a guy!  As it turned out, I discovered that the only person in my life who knew how to knit was his mother.  Wouldn’t you know it, she was a master knitter, so good that I was embarrassed to show her anything else I’d made - especially after that awful scarf.  Bless her, if she laughed at that 10 pound muffler - and I know she did - she did it behind my back and was ever encouraging to my face. 

My junior year of college, a bunch of us decided to gather every day at 4:30 pm, between our last class and dinner, and knit.  Star Trek was new on TV at that time and came on at 4:30. My roommate had a Panasonic portable TV with an amazingly small, 4 inch screen that we sat around in our room, squinting to make out Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, while our needle clicked and clacked away.  I successfully knit three afghans that winter, learning from my friends.  For quite a few years after that, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until my third child was born that I pulled out yarn again.  This time I decided to teach myself to crochet.  I worked for months on a granny square baby afghan for my sister, who was expecting her first baby 6 months after my Peter was born.  I knew I would never get it finished once Pete was born, so I worked feverishly up until his birth.  I was still crocheting in the labor room!  I finally finished it the day before I brought him home from the hospital.  Feeling rather smug about this lovely pink and blue afghan, I decided to try a knitted Christmas stocking for Pete.  He was born in May, which gave me six months to work on it. That year we drove from Wisconsin to Pittsburgh to my parents’ for Christmas.  I was still knitting the dumb thing in the car the whole way!  (See, I told you I wouldn’t get any needlework done once Pete was born!)  Anyway, the poor child deserved a Christmas stocking, so Christmas Eve found me still knitting.  The problem was that I didn’t know how to finish (I seem to have that problem a lot)!  I had started at the top, but that heel turn and toe confounded me, so I just kept knitting.  On Christmas Eve, my husband pointed out to me that the sock was nearly 36 inches long and maybe I should think about starting to turn the heel.  I did my best.  All the smart remarks by assorted family members didn’t help matters.  When it came time to stuff the stockings on the fireplace, Peter’s stocking hung like an ugly duckling among the rest.  As a matter of fact, it hung all the way to the floor!  And when we stuffed it, my how it stretched…….!!!  The next year I was so embarrassed for my mother-in-law to see it.  To her credit, she never said a word.  When Pete was old enough to realize that his stocking was “different than the other children’s”, I told him that I would ask his grandmother to knit him a proper stocking for Christmas.  To my surprise, he said no!  “Mom,” he replied. “I like this stocking.  You can get a lot more stuff in it than you can in anybody else’s stocking!”  And so, at age 31, he is still loving that three foot long, stretchy, red/white/and green stocking.   

                                                 

Soon after that, two more children were added to our fold and I got busy sewing more maternity clothes, Christmas dresses, and Easter outfits for five children, forgetting all about knitting.  However, about that time, my mother introduced me to her latest craze, crewel work.  It only took one project for me to realize crewel was not my media.  That project was a 24X30 inch crewel picture of the famous Norman Rockwell painting of the doctor listening to a child’s doll with his stethesope.  Chuck’s clinic had moved to a much bigger building attached to the hospital and I wanted to give him this project to hang in his new office.  It took longer for me to stitch that thing than it did to build the new three-story clinic!  However, though it was pretty impressive when it was done, I moved on to counted cross stictch.

As the children got older and I had more time to do handwork, I turned out some extraordinary pieces. I bought all the gadgets and stitched wherever I went.  My aida cloth projects traveled to Hawaii, all over the U.S., and spent their summers at our lake cottage.  I even attended a cross stitch convention in Des Moines, Iowa (where my eyes were opened as to how much of a novice I really was, though I didn’t give up).  The whole year before my son, Michael’s wedding, I worked on my magnum opus, a beautiful, intricate picture of a bride with a long train. There were eleven shades of white and nine shades of gray floss in the gown alone. But something happened before this that cut into my needlework time with a vengeance.

When Michael, our oldest, was about to go off to college, I took one look at the tuition bill, then took stock of my marketable skills.  What could I do to earn money toward tuition expenses?  What about a sewing business?               to be continued

 

The Me-attitudes

 

Most of you know by now that I have a painful, chronic disease called fibromyalgia and its sister disease, Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  It was following a trip to the Caribbean in December 1985 that I came down with transverse viral myelitis, a nasty virus that left me partially paralyzed in 1986.  After hospitalization, months in a wheelchair, and daily physical therapy, I recovered from the paralysis.  However, that virus left me with an interesting assortment of annoying problems that I still struggle with today.  In 1987 my two “buddies”, fibro and Chronic Fatigue, jumped on board.  So far, for these auto-immune diseases, there is no cure. The thing is, I’m not “sick” all the time and I’ve worked pretty hard to maintain a normal life.  I’m not in bed all day.  I wear make-up and jewelry.  I go places and see people and participate in organization and ministries.  Most of the time, if you didn’t know me, you would guess I was quite normal for a grandmother of 58.  I guess I hide it well, because people are always saying to me, “ Gee, you don’t look sick!”  But ask my husband about the  behind-the-scenes me.  Without him, I wouldn’t be able to do as well as I do, God bless him.

 

I deal with a constant level of muscle and joint pain.  My balance is affected and my body has a hard time regulating temperature and that old familiar “fight or flight” reaction.  Sleep disorder accompanies these diseases as well.  But it’s really OK.  God is so good to me, providing good medical care, some effective medicines, a supportive family, and understanding friends.  Good thing, because when the disease flares, I can be quite debilitated. In order to be on deck for something demanding, I usually have to clear my calendar ahead of time for resting and plan a day or so after the event for recovery.  Some times, rather than miss an event, I’ll swallow my pride and get back in that wheelchair (from which I always gain a fresh reminder of what handicapped people face daily).  I am determined not to live a mediocre life!

 

The most aggravating thing, though, is that I never know when my two “buddies” are going to raise their ugly heads.  I frequently get no warning. When they do, I have to give in and stay home to rest and medicate and meditate.  I discovered a long time ago that I cannot live in fear of one of these flares.  Yes, I have to be smart in balancing my life (especially true when I was raising my five children), but I decided that I was going to live life as though there were going to be a lot more good days than bad.  And guess what?  By God’s grace – and I mean only by God’s generous, healing grace, there are a lot more good days than bad!

 

Lately, I seem to be having a few more bad days than I’d like, which means that I have had to miss some special events I was planning on.  Worst of all are the situations where people are depending on me and I have to let them down.  The unpredictability of bad days makes commitment difficult.  Physical pain and lack of stamina limits the carrying out of goals and mission. For example, in December, the week of dress rehearsal for our annual church Christmas musical, I had to admit that I wasn’t up to performing the four nights. What a bummer, after weeks of rehearsal ! This week, Friday, I missed out on a special birthday lunch with my girlfriends.  On Saturday, I was supposed to serve as a client advocate at the Twice Touched clinic for the needy in our community.  I had been to the training session and everything, then woke up Saturday morning too weak to go. I felt terrible letting them down. The list goes on.  But I have discovered a sobering truth.  Life gets along pretty well without me!!  I’m not indispensable!  God provides other talented people to take my place, often doing a much better job than I.

 

Having a “thorn in the flesh” has taught me a lot of other things too. For one thing, hard times are part of life on this sinful earth.  Many people have much bigger problems than I do.  Much bigger.  God really used my dear friend, Maralyn Matthias, who passed away one year ago from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, to teach me that lesson.  She prompted me to consider this question:  Do I have a “poor me” attitude about my situation?  Philippians 3:10 says,

 

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death.”

 

How have I reacted to my troubles?  I aspire to be more like Christ, more like the Apostle Paul, and more like Maralyn in this regard.  Henry Overzet said,

“It’s not important WHAT happens to us, but rather how we REACT to what happens to us.”

 

I have learned to stop blaming God for my pain and difficulty.  Oh yes, there have been times when I thought God had abandoned me, or at the very least, had put his headphones on so he didn’t have to listen to my moaning.  But more and more, my reaction to pain is to press myself closer into his arms.  The great missionary to the Chinese, Hudson Taylor said,

 

“It doesn’t matter how great the pressure is but rather where the pressure lies.  See that it never comes between you and God.  Then the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to his breast.” 

 

This disease in my life is often what God uses to get my attention.  It’s what causes me to depend on Him.  When I was paralyzed from the ribs down, a Christian physician and friend gave me this verse to rest on and I have clung to it, sometimes minute to minute, hundreds of times since,

 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  II Corinthians 12:9  

 

Pain and suffering lead to the dangerous position of focusing on the “me-attitudes”.  I am beginning to recognize those times when all I think about is myself.  I hurt.  I can’t go out. I have to take so much medicine.  I can’t exercise to get trim.  I ‘m undependable.  I’m lonely.  God doesn’t care about me.  I, I, I.  Me, me, me.  That’s when God nudges me in His creative ways to become less “me-centered” and more “other-centered”.  It’s no coincidence that while I am feeling lousy this week, two people who have just been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have called me, out of the blue, for help.  What you want to bet God is using them to change my focus?  And even if they hadn’t called, the devastation in Haiti has caused all of us to turn our attention to those who are truly suffering.  The Apostle Peter said,

 

“In this you greatly rejoice, that now, for a little while, you may have to suffer grief in all kind of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – maybe proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  I Peter 1:6-7

 

Are you struggling with something painful or really burdensome?  Has God given you a thorn in the flesh to test you?  Perhaps like me, you might be discovering that you can better identify with others’ pain and reach out to comfort many because of it.  Maybe you are being asked to change your “me-attitudes”.  Do you believe that God is a good God and bigger than your pain?  Do you struggle because you just have to know the “why”?  Are you willing to trust Him, even when you don’t see His footprints?  Ask God to strengthen your faith, to grant you grace for the moment, to show you His direction, to give you someone else to comfort, to help you get your difficulties in perspective, to grow closer to Him, to be that peace in the dark night that you need.  II Corinthians 4: 16-18  says,

 

“We do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

Bible teacher, Jill Briscoe says, “Don’t resist your pain— USE it!”

 

Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  Thank you for people like Maralyn Matthias, whose lives are a living witness to your wisdom, faith, courage, long-suffering, and peace.  Father, walk closely with the broken-hearted. Comfort those in pain.  Speak up louder for those who can’t hear you right now.  Grant all of us the insight to recognize when we are caught up in the “me-attitudes”. Send us another who is in need to change our focus.   Amen

 

p.s.  Recently I went into the framing shop to have a picture framed for my mantel.  The framer is such a pleasant gentleman and always positive.  I commented about how the early darkness these winter days was difficult for me and he said,  “There are nine Saturdays until the robins come back!”  Well now, that sure puts the long winter into perspective.  So hang in there. 

D-Mail for the week of January 21, 2010
Scripture: “Real religion, that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from becoming polluted by the world.” James 1:27
“Do not take advantage of orphans or widows, for if you do and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear their cry.” Exodus 22:22

WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE ORPHANS?

Today my best friend’s husband is due back from a missions trip to Haiti. When he left ten days ago for Cap Haitian, Haiti with a team from his local church, he knew it would be hot and humid there. He knew there would be some hard manual labor to do. He knew they would be sharing the gospel with hundreds of poor Haitians. But he, and for that matter, any of us, knew that a huge earthquake would strike, changing everything. Cap Haitian is on the opposite side of the island country from Port au Prince, so there was minor damage from last week’s quake, but they reported that the earth did indeed move under their feet. The twenty-five year veteran missionaries who this team went down to serve, Don and Karen Davis , originally from my community, are connected to the outside world, as well as to the other many missionaries throughout Haiti, through internet and Ham radio. However, it didn’t enable them to be of any help where the earthquake had leveled nearly everything. The trip to Port au Prince is tedious at best, over mountains on bad roads. MFL, Missionary Flights International, flies in and out of Cap Haitian, delivering supplies, medicine and passengers to Don and Karen’s area, but there wasn’t much Don and Karen’s community could send to help. They too are destitute.

As I watched the news footage from Haiti, I , of course, was horrified at the devastation and loss of life. Overwhelmed like all of you must be too, I found I couldn’t focus my prayers. Of course I thanked God for sparing the part of Haiti where my friends were, but “Help the Haitians, Lord!” didn’t seem to cover it. Two days ago, I noticed the journalists beginning to report about the state of orphanages. When Don and Karen first went to Haiti, they were intimately involved in an orphanage and school. They have spent so much time and energy caring for children abandoned on their doorstep, many of whom they were able to arrange adoptive parents for all over the hemisphere. The rest of the orphans. What will become of the orphans now? With the orphanages destroyed and thousands more children now added to the ranks of orphans, I feel led to pray for the orphans.

In preparation for this D-mail, I did research on orphans in Haiti and around the world. I personally know people who serve or have adopted orphans in Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Columbia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Russia, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Korea, Romania, and India. You probably know many more. The accepted definition of an orphan among relief organizations is: a child that has lost at least one parent and is left to fend for themselves. UNICEF statistics estimate the number of children in the world today that have lost one parent at 143,000,000. 16.2 million have lost both parents. 95% of orphans are over age 5, no doubt owing to the high mortality rate of young children in poverty. The Orphan Foundation agrees and adds that 20,000,000 additional children are displaced due to war. That makes the combined orphan population the 7th largest nation in the world, slightly larger than the entire population of Russia. Orphan Helpers, a Christian organization that cares for orphans in government orphanages and juvenile detention centers, says that of the 143 million orphans worldwide, only 1% will be adopted. How sad! The CDC estimates are slightly different:
• Total global orphan estimates for 2008 are 163 million (Children having lost one or both parents).
• Of these, an estimated 55.3 million have lost a mother and 126 million have lost a father.
• An estimated 18.3 million children have lost both parents.
No doubt, there will be some debate regarding how and why the U.S. government numbers differ from UNICEF projections. (Ultimately, both the U.S. and the U.N. numbers are simply thoughtful, well-informed estimates.) What remains undisputable is that the need remains extreme.

The number of children orphaned by HIV-AIDS has skyrocketed all over the world with the greatest numbers in sub- Saharan Africa. The World Resources Institute reports that by the year 2000, 13 million orphans under the age of 15 were created by the staggering death toll of AIDS, 90% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Before the AIDS pandemic, only 2% of the populations of these countries were orphans.
AIDS has taken its toll in many other countries as well - along with war, natural disasters such as the Tsunami of 2004, and other killer diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. UNAIDS estimates there are 1.4 million orphans in Thailand, 87.6 in all of Asia. In 2005 India reported 25,700,000 orphans (due to all causes). In Cambodia, where friends of mine serve an orphanage, there are 100+ Christian orphanages taking care of 52,000 orphans who have lost both parents. Since the mid-1960’s, when it plunged into the IndoChina War, Cambodia has suffered through the worst the callous 20th century devised. It struggled through five years of bloody civil war, four years of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, then liberation through invasion and a decade of occupation by Vietnam, a hated neighbor. This bitter legacy has been bestowed on the children of Cambodia. Society has broken down, there is corruption at all levels, most live in abject poverty beside neighbors who may have betrayed them. In addition to AIDS and other rampant diseases, Cambodia has one of the highest occurrences of death by land mines, all leading to a seemingly endless supply of orphans. This sounds a lot like the story of a number of third world countries today, doesn’t it? In many countries, including China, statistics are unavailable or distorted by the governments. There is no way to know, for instance, how many orphans there are in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan or Somalia today. Wars lead to refugee suffering, starvation, and slaughter of innocents, not to mention the displacement and separation of families. In Afghanistan, for instance, Kabul’s two main orphanages, Alauddin and Tahia Moskan report that they have seen enrollment increase by 80% since last January.

Of course many orphans do not live in orphanages, but on the street. There the dangers are equally threatening. The Orphan Foundation reports that in Eastern Europe, less than 50% of orphans will live to age 20. Of those, 50% will end up in organized crime, drug trafficking or forced prostitution. The Russian Orphan Aid Foundation reports over 4 million orphans and homeless children in Russia and the Ukraine. That is more than they had there right after World War II! Officially, 730,000 orphans were registered in 2007. Only 200,000 lived in orphanages. More than 100,000 children were surrendered to orphanages due to poverty. 9,000 Russian orphans were adopted in 2007 (4,000 to U.S. families). Those living on the street go into forced prostitution, forced labor and drug trafficking. A shocking number are sold as slaves.
Even in countries like the United States that have foster care systems, the outlook is bleak for many orphaned children. In the U.S. 25,000 children will leave foster care without a family to support them. Of these, 25% will become homeless, 56% will enter the ranks of the unemployed, 27% of the males will end up in prison, and 30% of the females will have a baby before age 18.

Around the world famines, typhoons, hurricanes, volcano eruptions, fires, and earthquakes will cause the devastation that we are seeing in Haiti.  As before, the suffering and death will create orphans. UNICEF counted the number of orphans in Haiti in 2007 to be 380,000 (ages 0-17) out of a population of 4,211,000 children under 17.  It is estimated that one million children will be orphaned by the time this disaster plays out. The media reported that there were 900 adoptions of Haitian orphans by American families in the works when the earthquake struck. Secretary of State Clinton is said to be urging the officials to speed up the paperwork on these adoptions. I saw news footage today of 53 orphans from an orphanage that had collapsed in the quake getting off an airplane in Pittsburgh and being bussed to Children’s Hospital there. It’s great to see some happiness in all of this tragedy. There is talk of bringing as many homeless children from Port au Prince to the U.S. as possible. Unfortunately, we can’t save them all. Perhaps they are not ours to save.

A UNICEF official explained that  manpower should be used to find the families of the displaced children. Just because they are living on the streets doesn’t mean they are orphans. Family re-unification is key to the stability of these poor people. Perhaps we should be focusing on supporting the extended families and communities to which these children belong.  A recent UNICEF press release stated, 
“UNICEF’s ‘orphan’ statistic might be interpreted to mean that globally there are 132 million children in need of a new family, shelter, or care. This misunderstanding may then lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support”.  The more I think this over, the more I can’t help but feel this has huge implications for the way we approach our calling to “visit orphans in their afflictions. (James 1:27).

I realize that drowning you in all these statistics may not be inspiring. In fact it may be more paralyzing than all the news footage you’ve seen this week. On the Christian Alliance blogsite I found these words:
“It is vital that those who are leading the efforts to address the needs of orphans understand the scope of global need…even as we focus motivational messages and our own actions on specific situations and children. Ultimately, one statistic looms above all the others: it only takes one caring individual to make a life-long difference for an orphan.”

Warm Blankets, an organization that cares for orphans in Cambodia, had this on their website:
“If we don’t care for the children and build for them a future of hope, no one will. As orphans are introduced to the warmth and love provided by the community and care found in our orphan homes, they will learn to heal their society. There they receive an education and Bible training that helps them become productive, upright, and moral members of Cambodian society. The goal of Warm Blankets is to nurture and build into the next generation of Cambodia people so that today’s orphans will rise above their history of despair to become the future hope of a desperate land.”

PRAYER: So, my prayer is for the homeless children of Haiti, both today and in the weeks to come, that they can be reunited with family, that not even one will have to suffer or die alone, and that those who can donate to rebuild an orphanage or to fund an adoption will come forward. And I pray the same for the 143,000,000 orphans around the world tonight. As I sit by my warm fire, out of the elements, with plenty to eat and clean water to drink, I am reminded that there, but for the grace of God go I. Lord, hear my prayer.

 

WISDOM FOR THE NEW YEAR

 

How has 2010 been going for you so far?  I was reading Phillipians and came across the verse that I chose to pray for my oldest son when he went off to college.  I would like to pray this prayer of Paul’s for you in this new year.

 

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ –to the glory and praise of God.” Phillipians 1: 9-11

 

I would like to share with you the every day wisdom collected by Regina Brett, age 90, and published in a column she wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to celebrate growing older.  She called it her 45 life lessons. Simple truths often give me the greatest insight into the ways I live my life.  Regina gave me a lot of meat to chew on and I hope her 45 truths cause you to reexamine your life too.  I added several bits of wisdom myself.  They appear in red.

 

45 Lessons for Life

1.Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.  Anxiety is the space between now and then.
 
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
 
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
 
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
 
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
 
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
 
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
 
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11.Triumph is just “umph” added to “try”.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
 
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
 
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
 

15. When you are down to nothing, God is up to something
. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks. 
 
16. When you’re tangled up in problems, take a deep breath and be still.  It calms your mind and gives God time to untangle the knot.

17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
 
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
 
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.  Success is getting up just one more time than you have fallen down.
 

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
 
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
 
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
 
24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
It is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.
 
25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ”In five years, will this matter?”.
 
26. Always be kind to animals.
 
27. Don’t let someone live rent-free in your head. Forgive everyone everything. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
 
28. What other people think of you is none of your business.
 
29. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.

30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
 
31. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
 
32. Believe in miracles. If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.
 
33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
 
34. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.
 
35. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.
 
36. Your children get only one childhood.
 
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
 
38.Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
 
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
 
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need

.  Besides, you can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?
 
41. Beauty has the capacity to turn a moment into an experience.

 42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
 
 43. Bend with the wind. To keep your mind healthy and clean, change it every once in awhile.
 

 44. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

45. Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes He calms His child.

 

 

I have a few more to add:

46.Before you prepare to sacrifice yourself, make sure it’s not on somebody else’s altar.

47. Learning anything new is never a waste of time.  Some facts you may never use again, but the exercise of learning them has sharpened your mind and broadened your world.

48.  Let us not be guilty of putting a question mark where God has put a period.

49. In digging others out of trouble, you can find a place to bury your own.

50. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

51. If you want to learn to love better, you should start with someone you hate.

52.  It is no disgrace to move out of the path of an elephant.

53. For a child of God, prayer is kind of like calling home every day.

54. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.

55. God always bats last.

 

Prayer

Lord God, who created all things and knows all things, help each of us to seek out and acquire wisdom which leads to deep insight and discernment.

Teach us to love this new year as we have never loved before.  I pray for those who are victims – of dysfunctional homes, of crime, of war, of disease or starvation, of natural disasters, of religious and racial persecution, or of cruel governments.  Be their father, their protector, their rescuer, and their hope, Lord, as they, through no fault of their own, are suffering and helpless.

May we be your arm stretched out to them wherever we see need.  Amen

 

p.s. Two days ago, a 7.2 earthquake shook the poverty-stricken country of Haiti, followed by two more in the 5.2 range.  Heavy rains have been falling as well.  My friends, who have been serving Haiti as missionaries for over 25 years have emailed and asked for prayer.  Though my friends are OK, there is terrible damage and desperate situations in and around Port au Prince, the capital city.  Please pray that the after shocks will cease, that the rains will ease and that help will come soon to dig out the wreckage and provide food and shelter to the homeless. 

Power of Prayer

 
Someone has said if Christians really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless.. Did you know that during WWII there was an advisor to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every day at a prescribed hour for one minute to collectively pray for the safety of England , its people and peace?  There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in America .  If you would like to participate: Every evening at 9:00 PM Eastern Time (8:00 PM Central) (7:00 PM Mountain) (6:00 PM Pacific), stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States, our troops, our citizens, and for a return to a Godly nation. If you know anyone else who would like to participate, please pass this along.  Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have.  Please forward this to your praying friends.

 

Note: I apologize for the huge spaces between the lines of this post.  I’m having trouble with spacing detailswhen the manuscript is copied and pasted from WORD.  Working on it.   Cathy

 

Scripture: Luke 2:21-39  and Matthew 2:1-23

 

The Birthday of a King

Part III

 

Mary was awake feeding James when Joseph came to bed.  “Have you been up on the roof all this time?” Mary asked.

 

“Yes. Let me under the blanket,” Joseph said as he slid in beside Mary. “I’m chilled.”

 

“I heard voices.  Who on earth were you talking to?”

 

“Jesus was up there.  He says he goes up on the roof every night to talk with God.  Did you know that?  Anyway, he wanted me to tell him more about the night he was born.”

 

“That doesn’t surprise me.  He was insistent that I tell him the story this afternoon.  I wonder why it is suddenly so important to him?”

 

“I guess the birth of James got him thinking about it.  I began telling him the story where you left off.  We wrapped up in the blanket together and stared up at the stars.  It took me back, I’ll tell you.  Back to that crazy, wonderful night.  Mary, I think Jesus may be reaching the age where he’s looking to his future and asking God what it holds for him.

He will be bar mitzvahed soon.  We always knew he would have a special ministry.  Perhaps it is beginning.”

 

“It could be.  He has been asking me if he will be able to talk to the priests at the Temple when we go up to Jerusalem next month.”

 

Joseph closed his eyes.  “I was about to tell him what happened at the Temple with Simeon and Anna. Remember them? But I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.  I told him he would have to wait until we were on the road to Eli’s to hear the rest of the story.”  He yawned as Mary placed James in the cradle beside their bed and crawled back in beside him.

 

“Joseph?”

 

“Humnn?”

 

“You’ve been a wonderful father to Jesus.  God could not have chosen any better.  I wanted you to know that.  And I want you to know that I love you very much.”

Joseph held her close.

 

“I love you, too.  Goodnight.”

 

“Goodnight, my love.”

 

As the sun rose the next day, the house was already stirring.  Breakfast was a simple affair as always.  Mary packed some food for Joseph and Jesus’s journey while Joseph prepared the cart that held Eli and Miriam’s exquisitely carved chest.  Jesus was up early to water the donkey.  He was anxious to be on the road because Joseph had promised him the rest of the story.  It was always a treat to travel outside of Nazareth and see some of the rest of the world.  Nazareth was such a small town.  People called it squalid – the back side of nowhere, they said.  More than once he had heard someone say, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Well, this beautiful chest he had helped Joseph build was certainly a good thing to come out of Nazareth.

 

“Jesus,” Joseph called. “Let’s get going before it gets too hot.  Hitch the donkey to the cart, then go kiss your mother and grandmother goodbye.”

 

“Yes, Papa!”  Jesus did as he was told and ran to the house.  “Goodbye, Mother.  Goodbye Grandma.  We will be back by sundown.”

 

“We’ll be here,” Mary replied.  Then she winked and said. “Enjoy the story!”   He rewarded her with a big smile as he waved goodbye.

 

Soon father and son were outside Nazareth leading the donkey cart along the dusty road.  Jesus could no longer contain himself.  “What happened at the Temple, Papa?  You said something special happened when you took me to the Temple!”

 

“Okay. Okay, Mister Impatient,” Joseph laughed.  “I did promise you the rest of the story.  Let’s see now.  At the Temple I bought two doves, the sacrifice for your consecration to Yahweh.  As we were standing there in the Temple courts, an old man approached us.  He said his name was Simeon and that he had been waiting for the Messiah all his life. When he spoke to us, I sensed that the Holy Spirit was upon him.  He said,

 

`Yahweh has revealed to me that I will not die until I behold the promised Messiah. The Holy Spirit led me here today and I have not been disappointed.  This child is the consolation of Israel.  May I hold him?’  Your mother handed you into his arms.  Then he raised you up toward heaven, saying,

 

`Sovereign Lord, let now Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.  For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all people, a light unto the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.’  Tears ran down his face as he gazed into your eyes and held you close to his heart.  We were speechless!  Then this man, Simeon, blessed us and said to your mother,

 

`This child is destined to be a sign which men will reject.  Many in Israel will stand or fall because of him, and thus the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare.  And you too, Mary, shall be pierced to the heart.’  We could not comprehend what he was talking about, but we knew that mighty things were coming because of your birth.”

 

“My Father God was speaking through this man.  I know it.  And Papa, I am ready for whatever He calls me to do.”

 

“Yes, Jesus.  I believe you are.  I think Yahweh was preparing your mother and me way back then because after Simeon left us, a prophetess named Anna approached us with the same enthusiasm.  Even though she was quite elderly and stooped over with cloudy eyes, she seemed to know us.  She came up to your mother so joyfully and said,

 

`My name is Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.  I was married only a short time before being widowed.  I am now eighty- four years old and have lived here at the Temple since that time, worshipping and fasting, night and day.  As I was in prayer today, Yahweh spoke to me about this child.  Praise be to our Lord!  This child is the promised Messiah!’  She placed her wrinkled hands on your cheeks and thanked Yahweh over and over.  The she went about the whole Temple telling everyone that the Messiah they had been praying for had come.  Many gathered around us to get a look at you.  Your mother and I were struck dumb.  We couldn’t believe all of this.”

 

“I can’t wait to go back to the Temple, Papa!  Do you think Anna is still there? Or Simeon?”

 

“No, I don’t expect that either of them are still alive.  Anna would be ninety- five, Jesus!”

 

“I guess so.  After meeting Anna, did you and Mother take me home to Nazareth ?”

 

“We probably would have except that we had no money.  All we had was a donkey, plus a few carpentry tools I had brought along.  I had to find us some shelter until I could earn enough money to get home.”

 

“So where did we live?”

 

“Outside of the Temple I asked a group of men if they knew of anyone who might need some carpentry work done.  Fortunately, because of the census, there were quite a few people who had come by cart and those carts needed shoring up before they could return to their home towns.  Your Mother really liked Bethlehem and wanted to find lodging there.  She had had enough of camping outside.”

 

“I think camping outside is fun, Papa.”

 

“Me too, Jesus,” Joseph chuckled, “but women are different – especially when they have a tiny baby to care for.  So we made our way back to Bethlehem.  At the inn where you were born, I found enough work repairing carts and doing odd jobs inside, that we were able to pay for lodgings.  The innkeeper’s wife had a cousin who was away on a long journey.  He had left his empty house in her care.  With all the strangers in Bethlehem, she was worried that his house would be looted.  She offered it to us to live in and protect until her cousin returned.  That house was bigger than ours in Nazareth.  Your mother thought she had become a queen!  Even so, she missed her family.  As soon as I had  saved enough from my earnings, we were going to head back to Nazareth.”

 

The sun was overhead when Joseph spied a stand of acacia trees.  “ Jesus, let’s rest a while under those trees ahead.    I’ll tell you more while we eat our lunch.”  Jesus unhitched the donkey, tied it to one of the trees and joined Joseph on a nearby rock.  As they nibbled on goat cheese and flatbread, Jesus asked,

 

“We didn’t go back to Nazareth then, did we?”

 

“No, we didn’t.  Something happened that changed our plans.” Joseph continued the story.   “One day I was home – in the house I told you about - for the noon meal, when we heard all sorts of noise in the street.  I poked my head outside our door to see a mob of people heading our way.  In the square stood a small caravan of camels, guarded by a group of men dressed unlike any I had ever seen.  Pretty soon the crowd parted to reveal three strange men with a dozen servants dressed in rich silk.  Their turbans were strange to me, but I knew these men had to have been very important.  Then suddenly, I realized that they were heading for our house!  I shouted to your mother, “Mary, make yourself presentable.  Three kings are coming to visit us!”

 

“Three what?!” she called from the sleeping room.

 

Before I could answer her, a servant was at our door announcing the kings.  Your mother was scurrying about arranging our few floor rugs and cushions.  “Salaam, ” said the servant as he bowed. “Is this the home of Joseph and Mary and the child that was born under the great star?”

 

I was a little afraid of these strangers, but of course I answered him with my best manners.  “It is.  May I ask who has nobly graced our home this day?”

 

`My masters are Magi from the great land of the Parthians in Persia.  They are Zoroastrians and have spent their many years studying the movements of the heavenly bodies. The star under which the child was born is most unusual.  According to the ancient writings, it seems that this star is the sign that a new king has been born to the Jews.  If you would be so kind, my masters desire to see this child and present him with gifts worthy of his royal birth.  What message may I take to them?’

 

“Saints and sinners, was I amazed!  I couldn’t find my tongue.  Then, from behind me, came your mother’s calm, gracious voice,

 

`It would please us greatly to receive your masters in our humble home.  Since we have little room, may I suggest that only your masters come inside?  Our son is learning to walk so I have cleared the room of our few seats.’

 

`Kind lady,’ said the servant. `My masters will bring soft cushions for you so that all may sit comfortably while they visit.  It would please them also to bring meat and drink in addition to their gifts.’

 

“Finally I found my tongue and told him, `Tell your masters that they are most welcome.’  Jesus, you wouldn’t believe the wealth.  Never had I seen such grandeur.  A dozen servants came with fine rugs and cushions that covered the whole floor.  Then they brought in bowls of fruit and meats, jars of honey and wine.  It was more of a feast than we had ever seen in our lives!  Then the three Magi entered.  They were magnificent! When Mary brought you to them, they prostrated themselves on our floor, worshipping you!  What is more miraculous, you seemed to know it, even though you were just a toddler.  Since we did not speak their language, a servant sat next to us and translated what the first magi said. 

 

` Sir, we have followed the star for many months from our kingdom in Persia.  It led us to Judea.  We went to Jerusalem because we assumed that the new king would have been born in the palace there.  However, we met King Herod, who informed us that he knew nothing of the birth of a new king.  He asked us many questions and consulted his magi, who told him that your holy scriptures told of a messiah to be born in Bethlehem.  But they didn’t know when that was to be.  After we explained about the movement of this star, King Herod asked us to seek the child. When we had worshipped him, he wished us to return and tell him so that he could worship the child too.  That night, to our great joy, we observed the star moving once more.  By dawn we had followed it to this street, where it stopped over your house.  It gives us great joy to humbly bow and give honor and glory to this boy king.  May his reign be long and powerful and may he be beloved by his people and blessed by God.’

 

“I told the translator to tell his master, ‘On behalf of our son, we humbly thank you.  Please rise and greet him. He is not shy.’  Then you went to each of the magi, smiling and playing with their beards.  At first I was alarmed, but they laughed and did not seem to mind a bit. They remarked on how handsome you were, and intelligent.”

 

“Papa, what were the gifts they brought to me?  Do we still have them somewhere?”

 

“Oh, no, Jesus.  I’m afraid not.  The gifts were magnificent though.  One gave you frankincense, the finest incense used in worship.  The second gave you myrrh, precious oil for beauty and anointing.  The last gave you gold, a most generous amount, fit for a king.  We really felt awkward receiving these gifts, but the Magi said they were for you and that we were to manage them for your benefit.  How could we refuse?  Then we ate!  The food was like angel’s fruit from heaven.  So sumptuous!  Your mother even gave you a few tidbits to chew on.  The afternoon passed quickly and at sunset, when you had fallen asleep in your mother’s lap,  they announced that they must leave.  As the last of our three guests said goodbye, he took me aside and said,  `Do you know much about this King Herod?’  I told him that Herod was known to be ruthless and dangerous.  He said, `It is true.  Our spirits were most troubled by his manner at the palace.  Be warned. Watch over the child carefully.’

 

“Sure enough, that night I had another dream.  The angel appeared to me and said, `Get up and take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’

 

“King Herod had the spirit of Satan, didn’t he, Papa?” Jesus’ young face flashed in anger.

 

“Absolutely.  Everyone knew how jealous Herod was and the evil he was capable of, so I wasted no time.  I woke Mother and we quickly gathered our belongings.  We packed the donkey, wrapped you up, and headed out in the dark without a word to anyone.  By daylight, we were well south of Bethlehem, but we did not feel safe until we reached Egypt weeks later.”

 

“Did King Herod search for me?”

 

“Jesus, do you remember the words the prophet, Jeremiah wrote?

`A voice is heard as far away as Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.’ The Magi, we were later told, suspected that Herod was up to no good, so they returned to their land by another route than Jerusalem.  When Herod found out, he became raving mad.  He had determined that this young king he so feared had to have been born in Bethlehem within the last two years.  In his fury, he ordered that all boys age two and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem were to be murdered.  Had we not heeded the angel’s warning, Jesus, you would have been one of those boys.  I shudder just thinking about it.”

 

“Papa, is that the `troubles’ that Grandma wouldn’t talk about?  She said she couldn’t stand to even bring up the memories.”

 

“Yes, Jesus.  You see, Grandma had hoped we would be returning to Nazareth soon.  The news came that the census was over and still we didn’t return.  Our message that you had been born never reached Nazareth and then, because of the angel’s warning, we dared not send word we were fleeing to Egypt.  For all she knew, we were dead.”

 

“How long did we live in Egypt, Papa?”

 

“We lived as nomads there.  We were afraid Herod might have had us followed so we moved to a new place every few weeks.  The Magi’s gifts sustained us for those years. It was a difficult life and your mother grieved for what her family must have been going through.  Indeed, your grandfather and several other of her relatives died while we were away.  Finally we received news that Herod was dead.  The angel came to me once more in my dreams and said,

 

`Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’

 

“So we went back home,” Jesus said.

 

“Well, we packed up and returned to Israel, but we heard there that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was on the throne in Judea.  I feared him as much as his father.  And I was right.  The angel appeared to me  once more, directing me to take you to Galilee.”

 

“We went to Nazareth?”

 

“Yes.  We went home at last. Your grandmother had given up hope of ever seeing us again, so there was much weeping, but then rejoicing.  We have been here ever since. And that is how you became a Nazarene.”

 

“And Mother never wants to go traveling anywhere ever again!”

 

“You’ve got that right.  But you know, Jesus, as I look back, I see the hand of the Lord God in every detail of what happened.  Although I do not know what the future holds for you, I know that your mother and I are ready to do whatever Yahweh commands.”

 

“And so am I, Papa.  I will serve my Father God in this place and somehow, some day, I will save my people.  You’ll see.”  Joseph pulled Jesus into his strong arms and held him tightly.  What was Almighty God going to do with this lad, His son?  Joseph prayed for strength. and for wisdom.

 

“Well now, my boy, that’s all of the story I know.  If we are to be home for supper, we’d better get this chest to Eli and Miriam. Hitch up the donkey.”  As the afternoon sun beat down on the dusty road, a strapping, simple carpenter with  gnarled hands and a big heart, walked along , one muscular arm around the eleven-year-old hope of mankind, the King of kings and Lord of lords, born to give His life as a ransom for His people’s sins, the Savior of whosoever would call upon His name.